I've been reading a very interesting blog called Stuff White People Do. I have been working to educate myself on my own privilege and marginalization for a while now, and this blog has been helping me recognize some of my own whiteness.
One recent post talked (in part) about white people's attitudes towards black hair, othering it, thinking of it as exotic, more interesting, etc., and wanting to pet it like a "goddamn dog". This struck enough of a chord in me that I decided to come here to my own space to ponder my own thoughts and feelings on the issue.
The larger issue here, as I understand it, is how white people tend to feel a sense of entitlement to everything regardless of whether it is a white thing, and to feel comfortable appropriating or exoticizing cultural/racial/religious/etc. markers for ourselves when those same markers bring a lot of prejudice and marginalization down on the people of color who have them naturally/innately/natively (I don't actually feel fully comfortable with any of these terms).
I personally think that I do not exoticize most black attributes because of the time that I spent in South Africa in a community where I was very definitely a racial minority. I became very used to being a racial minority and to seeing blacks as a majority. I lived with a local black family and was very willing to have my American racial assumptions challenged. I very much enjoyed having my paradigm altered, actually. It felt like a relief to be able to talk about, acknowledge, and otherwise recognize race and racial issues publicly (yes, this is very much a white thing).
One particular opinion that I developed from this experience is that my particular skin color (a golden-peachy variant of white), does not go well with the bright color palette of clothing that I would love to wear (and felt inspired to wear from my experiences in South Africa), but that the same set of bright colors tend to look much more fabulous on browner or blacker skin. Even the beiges and taupes look better on browner skin than they do against my own personal coloring.
I also am of the opinion that natural black hair is beautiful, and I am particularly fond of twists, not that I saw many twists in South Africa. I have several black (African American) friends now who choose to keep their hair natural (I hope I am using the right terminology here), and I love it from an aesthetic point of view. I also acknowledge that there is a strong political aspect to their hair choices, but I admit I do not understand (nor am I sure that I, being white, could fully understand) the full ramifications of it.
If it were possible to separate black hair and skin from the racist contexts of our culture, I would still have the same admiring opinion. And yet, I know that it is impossible to make that separation and so I find myself working to not cross the line into exoticizing or appropriating. I personally think that I admire many different and diverse forms of beauty in the world without assuming a white "normal" or any "normal", but I also realize how there is a minefield of racism and historically racially charged assumptions and language on this topic, so I feel very uncomfortable trying to navigate these discussions. I want to be careful not to do more hurt and harm, and feel insecure about the degree to which I have managed thus far to educate myself about these topics.